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As everyone’s father no doubt said, “Time is money.”
Accepting that maxim, managing time is key. One key to success is to recognize time bandits.
Time bandits aren’t the miscreants who cheat on time sheets, take a full day of leave for an hourlong dental visit and the like.
They are typically good workers, friendly and engaging, trying to do the best job they can.
Their banditry typically starts with a question, something like – wait for it: “Do you have a minute?”
Time theft isn’t inconsequential.
A study at the University of California, Irvine found that the average time to refocus on a task after an interruption is 23 minutes, consuming as much as six hours of each eight-hour day.
The financial impact can be considerable.
Assume everyone in your organization, be it an office worker or a frontline employee, experiences only two interruptions a day (low, according to experts) and calculate the cost to your operation.
This is not strictly a problem for administrative employees. Production and customer-facing workers experience interruptions as well.
In some respects, our modern way of working encourages time banditry. We value workplace collegiality – brief social greetings that might prompt a longer chat.
We encourage people to ask a co-worker for on-the-spot guidance. We call them “learning moments” – impromptu consultations, a brief social greeting that begs a response or an even longer conversation.
Employees value accessible managers, managers want to relate to their teams, collaboration is encouraged but often not well-managed.
General practice encourages seeking on-the-fly second opinions and mini-conferences.
We’re all bandits
Bandits can be co-workers, leaders and colleagues. Acknowledging we are all time bandits brings home the billions of lost hours and trillions in cost.
The challenge: How to tame the beast without losing the benefit.
Experts on the subject recommend mutual time lock agreements between workers and managers.
The idea is to provide times when interruptions are “locked out,” so everyone can concentrate on tasks at hand.
It’s probably not a great strategy for the frontline and production-employee-heavy cannabis industry, however.
In our scenario, other strategies are more suitable.
Here are a few. You can invent more of your own:
- The Chunk My Time Strategy: Teams set a time to deal with all interruptions, as in, “Let’s all get together at (time) so everyone hears the question and answer.”
- The Quiet Zone Strategy: Useful for admin employees, a location where workers can go and not be interrupted is designated. This might be as simple as a conference room or as elaborate as a workspace with shared workstations, etc.
- The Daily Meeting Strategy: Teams meet very briefly at the end of the workday to bring up specific instances where they have encountered a question. The advantage of this is that all members of the team hear the same information at the same time. This strategy can be used for teams from the frontline to production workers to the management team. Carefully managed, this approach can be very effective, but implementation must be mindful of wage and hour guidelines.
When the bandit is your boss, your strategies might be a bit more delicate, but in delicacy lies opportunity.
- The Let’s Help Each Other Strategy: When you mention you never seem to have enough time to do the things you have to do and always feel on the verge of missing deadlines (hint, hint).
- The I Don’t Want to Disappoint You Strategy: When you say, “if I’m interrupted, I worry that I can’t get done what I promised you I’d do, and I’m afraid I’ll disappoint you or let you down.”
Both open the opportunity to ask how you and your bandit could help each other create more productive time.
Ultimately, the best solution of all is shining a light on banditry, taking opportunities to call it out without a heavy hand and “giving permission” to everyone in your organization to recognize it and, ideally, handle it with good humor and grace.
John Stearns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.